North Korea: To make war, they need us to forget history

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The use of napalm on civilians in the Vietnam War was widely known, its use in Korea widely ignored, hardly remembered. Anonymous Vietnam War poster.

The worst lies can be silence and forgetting, essential for all warmaking. A “bipartisan consensus”  is emerging in Washington that the US needs to force North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons with a military attack — even regime change. North Korea is another “rogue state,” with leaders so evil and irrational there is no point in diplomacy; if talk is pointless, military force must be the only option. Strange as the regime is, the demonization should make us suspicious; we’ve heard it before as a justification for horrors.

Tough choices, as our leaders like to say; and here are the tough facts which finally dissuaded previous US administrations from military attacks on North Korea.

  • There are 10,000 artillery in the mountains within range of Seoul, which has 1/3 of South Korea’s population.
  • North Korea has a vast underground network of military facilities.
  • North Korea positions 80% of their troops near the border, to frustrate both a nuclear attack and an invasion.
  • Now, added to these defensive advantages, North Korea has nuclear weapons, with mobile launchers and launch sites deep underground.

The Clinton administration negotiated a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs and North Korea even agreed to sell off its medium and long-range weapons in exchange for an end to US threats and the beginning of normalization of relations. But then Bush named North Korea a part of the “axis of evil” and threatened regime change and nuclear first strike. Why ever did those crazy North Koreans rush to resume their nuclear program?

Bruce Cumings, a historian of the Korean War and its aftermath, says, “The simple fact is that Pyongyang would have no nuclear weapons if Clinton’s agreements had been sustained.”

We read about the North Korean provocations but not about their context. Many of them are responses to US threats, such as the yearly US-South Korea war games,  this year involving 300 000 South Korean troops, 17,000 US troops, with ground, air, naval and special operations services. These rehearse “surgical strikes on North Korea’s main nuclear and missile facilities and ‘decapitation raids’ by special forces targeting the North’s leadership.” This year they include Seal Team Six, the team that killed bin Laden.

North Korea agreed to a “suspension for a suspension” — a suspension of their weapons programs in exchange for the US suspension of war games; the US refused. Apparently the US again is waiting for the North Korea to either surrender its nuclear program in return for nothing — or maybe waiting for the regime to collapse, relying on China to impose sanctions to help it along. That hasn’t worked in the past, for fairly obvious geopolitical reasons. First, North Korea has shown remarkable stability, it is fiercely independent, and it has resisted Chinese pressure in the past. It’s not in China’s interest to see a crisis in North Korea that could bring hundreds of thousands of refugees into China.  China also values North Korea as a buffer state —South Korea is a US military ally with US bases, and the US strategy has long been to encircle China with bases in South Korea, Japan, Philippines (uh-oh), and maybe one day Vietnam and Thailand.

But the history the media forget, that is always present in North Korea, should tell us why North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons. In the Korean War, North Korea lost 1/5 to 1/3 of its population, as the US carpet bombed the terrain, leveling almost every city and village, making the whole country into a free fire zone, even bombing the dams and reservoirs to wash away villages and people and destroy the rice supply. Strategic bombing failed yet again, as it did in the US wars against Germany, Japan and Vietnam; the North Korean response was to learn to live underground — they moved their dwellings, their factories, their military installations underground.

The Korean War was more devastating than the Vietnam War, forgotten here, not in North Korea.

Since then, after decades of economic warfare, threats of invasion and even nuclear attack, their response was to develop nuclear weapons. That was the lesson of the Iraq invasion to North Korea or any small country which wants to remain independent of great powers — if Saddam Hussein actually had nuclear weapons, would the US have invaded? Expect more nuclear proliferation, the price we all pay when the US threatens some other small country.

Where is the antiwar movement? Where are those millions of people, here and in Europe, who went into the streets to protest the Iraq War? The millions who forced Nixon and Kissinger to withdraw troops from Vietnam and showed our elites that they can never again send hundreds of thousands of US troops into a ground war?

We can thank Trump. “Resistance” is so focused on his removing him from office that it is hard to focus on any one area, and when we do, it’s his attacks on people in the US.

But we can also thank Obama for this deflection from US warmaking. He carried on the war policies of Bush at the end of his administration, which as you remember was forced to withdraw troops in Iraq, a withdrawal later completed by Obama. Obama sent 70,000 more troops into Afghanistan, our longest war, and then left Libya in shambles. But, then, this was Obama —he was a Democrat, he was the good president. He couldn’t pacify any foreign land, but he pacified us.

Now as US warmaking escalates in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, making new threats of military action against North Korea, we no longer have Obama in office. But there is still no antiwar presence.

Why do you think? Send me your thoughts.

To read more about North Korea:

Any of Bruce Cumings’ books, in particular: “Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History” and “North Korea: Another Country.”


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